How You Can Make A Fortune From The ‘Medical Singularity’
The place was St. Francis Hospital in Wichita, Kansas.
It was a hot, humid day in August 1984. I was very young.
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I sat under fluorescent light on a padded exam table covered with crisp white paper. My mother was by me, holding my hand for both our sakes. My dad, in his typical suit and tie, stood nervously by the door.
#-ad_banner-#I didn’t know it then, but he was terribly frightened. So was Mom.
For my part, I didn’t know enough to be afraid. My eighth birthday had taken place only three months before. I was a kid.
A nurse came in and said something evidently newsworthy. My dad asked my mom if she wanted to go home to get a few things. The whole situation — the gravity, the magnitude — didn’t register with me. My mother looked at her only son and smiled. “I’ll see in you in a little bit, sweetie pie,” she said. “Go with your dad. I’ll be there soon.”
My father drove me to another building about five minutes away. We sat in yet another room and waited for more advice. Then my dad took a deep breath.
“Andy,” he said. “I want you to listen to me. You didn’t do anything wrong. Everything is going to be all right. Your mother and I will take care of you no matter what. We’ll get through this together — you, your mom, your sisters and me. You’re a bright boy. You’ll learn this in no time, and you’ll feel better. I promise.”
I said okay.
“It won’t last forever,” my dad told me. “By the time you go to college, they’ll be able to fix this.” I don’t know if he was trying to convince himself or me. He reached over and gently put his huge hand on my little head. A tear fell out of his eye. It was so still in the room I heard it land on the cold linoleum floor.
I didn’t know what to say. I’d never seen my Dad cry.
I know, now, how the major diagnosis of a family member, of a medical difficulty affecting a loved one that you yourself cannot fix, can uproot and nearly shatter the soul.
Finally, another nurse came in. She had a tray with a bunch of stuff on it and placed what’s called an autolet on my finger. She pressed a white button on the top, which released a spring that brought a little arm down with a snap. It stung a little. A drop of blood appeared on my finger. She smeared my blood onto the end of one of the little strips and set it down. She pressed some buttons on the device; it counted down two minutes. Then she used the squeeze bottle to rinse my blood off the strip. She raised a little trapdoor on the device, slid in the strip, closed the door and pressed a button.
Dad and I were both wide-eyed. I thought it was — well, kind of cool.
“Your blood sugar is 341,” she announced. “From 60 to 120 is normal, so that’s high. We’ll get it down to where it should be using insulin and maybe exercise. These new glucometers are getting better every day. It’s all getting better every day.”
The nurse told me that from now on, I’d have to test my blood sugar at least four times a day. Over the course of the next week at the Diabetic Care Unit, which felt almost like camp, I was taught to draw insulin into a syringe and inject it myself. I would memorize the caloric values of food. I was told there were things I could no longer eat. From now on, every morsel of food, every bit of activity I got, every bit of stress and every aspect of my health would have to be actively managed. Everyone else’s body was on autopilot. Not mine. Not anymore, and not ever again.
I wasn’t scared, per se. Maybe overwhelmed, I guess. But mostly — I was fascinated.
And I’ve been fascinated ever since. It was my introduction to medicine, baptism by fire though it might have been, and the takeaway was a grabber: There were knowledge and tools I could use that would make me feel better. These tools, because of scientific research, were improving at a fast clip.
Those were tough times for all of us.
But it turned out my timing was pretty good.
The Medical ‘Singularity’
Insulin — a hormone in the human pancreas used to regulate the metabolization of glucose, had been discovered in 1921. But in October 1982, the Food and Drug Administration had approved a new synthetic insulin. A fledgling company called Genentech had made a breakthrough: Rather than extracting insulin from pigs, which are pretty close to humans in a lot of ways, Genentech had done something that at the time seemed like something from science fiction: It had taken a human genetic sequence, introduced it to a bacterial medium and grown human insulin. Genentech licensed the technology to the drug maker Eli Lilly & Co., and “Humulin” was the first recombinant drug to hit the market.
This was a major shift in the treatment of Type 1 diabetes. It was a generational shift in medicine, not the first one the world had seen by a long shot and only the first of many I’d come to see.
Today, in lieu of washing blood off a test strip after pricking my finger four times a day, a sensor in my body wirelessly communicates my blood glucose level to my insulin pump every few minutes. It functions as close to a pancreas as possible. I started with synthetic insulin and ended up with a synthetic pancreas. The Humilin I injected into my leg took two hours to work. Today, a new type of insulin called Humalog goes to work immediately.
My point is that even at a very young age, I learned through this experience some ideas that were shockingly powerful. Everything could be made better, more effective. All it took was an understanding of where we were and some creative thinking about where we could go.
As an investor, this prospect should excite you to your core.
Why? Because today, yet again, we find ourselves on the cusp of another generational shift in medicine.
Just think for a moment about how far and how fast medicine has moved in just the last 100 years.
From understanding germ theory to the development of chemotherapy.
The first successful organ transplant, a kidney, was in 1954.
In university laboratories, through clinical trials and with other advances in our understanding of the inner workings of genetics, knowledge snowballed. More and better drugs followed.
Thanks to Jonas Salk, the polio vaccine was developed in 1955. Smallpox was eradicated by 1980.
In 1997, GlaxoSmithKline introduced combivir, the first of the AIDS cocktails that would eventually allow patients to manage the levels of virus in the body and make a deadly serious disease a manageable chronic health concern.
In the early 1990s, Craig Venter succeeded in sequencing the human genome.
One way to visualize where we are is with a simple theoretical graph. A hundred years ago, we start with a value of 1. Every 10 years, the state of medical progress is reassessed and rises incrementally to encompass new medical understanding.
As knowledge slowly accumulates over time, the growth on this chart is small. At first.
As the decades pass and the sum total of the medical establishment’s knowledge rises, the slope of this line steepens — we witness geometric rather than merely linear growth. At a given point, the line goes vertical.
At that point, humankind has made sufficient scientific progress so as to obviate the human toll of illness and disease. The human lifespan, relatively short at the first point in the series, extends to its maximum. The concurrent rise of various other technologies approaches its own maximum, the technological singularity.
My friends, I’m here to tell you that I believe we’re close to reaching that point in the medical field.
What does that mean?
Well, for starters it means Dad was wrong: I eventually went to college as a diabetic. But the kids being diagnosed today? I don’t think they will. And maybe there’s hope for me yet.
I’m going to be all right either way. But what gets my juices going is the entirely happy prospect that I’m going to make a fortune along the way.
That’s because, based on my research, I think we’re going to start seeing a massive wave of innovation in the medical space. I’m talking about heady, next-level, mind-bending, Star Trek stuff.
To put it quite frankly, it’s going to be the biggest investment opportunity of my career.
It could be the biggest of yours, too.